With the second day of frigid temperatures underway today, the Aiken County School District will delay school openings for students by two hours once again.
However, teachers and other staff members should plan on reporting at their regular times.
The District's school buses will crank up early this morning – hopefully with more good fortune than on Tuesday.
Most school buses were themselves delayed by two additional hours – the majority of them hindered by batteries that wouldn't start.
Some of them, and other buses also, had condensation issues caused by trapped air in the tanks. As a result, many buses dropped off students to their schools as late as noon.
“We've had some cold spells before that led to problems with the buses,” said Maria McClure, the Aiken County School District's transportation director. “But this is the worst in a while. We're going to have all the drivers come in for their buses an hour before their routes begin.”
As an added problem, North Aiken Elementary School and Aiken Middle School lost power around 9:30 a.m. and got it back about 11 a.m.
When bus drivers were late picking up students, many parents were bringing students to Aiken Middle School. With the power still out in that time period, Principal John Bradley gave those parents and others who usually drive their students the option to return home with their children and not count it as an absence.
“By the end of the day, we had about 20 percent of the students left,” Bradley said.
Ironically, North Aiken parents started picking up their children when they heard the Aiken Middle School kids were leaving with their parents. About 50 percent of North Aiken's children left early, Principal Elisa Sanders-Pee said, adding that the situation overall was handled well by the faculty and parents.
Aiken Bus Shop staffers will report for work even earlier than the drivers today, traveling to the four high schools where buses are parked. They will work on any bus problems as needed.
The buses are located at four high schools – Aiken High, Wagener-Salley, Silver Bluff and Midland Valley. The Johnston Bus Shop serves buses parked at Ridge Spring-Monetta Elementary/Middle School and at Mossy Creek Elementary School in North Augusta.
As of 4 p.m. on Tuesday, the temperature was still at 28 degrees and was predicted to remain below freezing overnight.
“The last time we've seen anything as cold as this was 13 to 15 years ago,” said Wylie McDaniel, the School Bus Shop supervisor.
The bus system is administered through the State Department of Education, which provides about 150 buses to the Aiken Bus Shop. About 120 are 1995 transit buses, and they had most of the problems, McDaniel said. The throttle cables froze, leading to dead batteries.
“Every thing was running fine Friday,” he said. “But when the temperatures dropped to the low teens and with the wind chill factor, the batteries just don't do well in any vehicle, especially diesel.”
There's not really a mechanical way to prepare for such low temperatures and the battery problems, McDaniel said. The slightest particle of ice also can hinder the operation of the air system. But with his employees waiting on the drivers today, that should provide some leeway if the buses don't start.
“Our job is to get the buses on the road,” McDaniel said.
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.
Public schools adjusted schedule
• School starts: All public schools will have a two-hour delay from their regular opening time. However, teachers and other staff members will report at the regular time.
• The early release day for all schools will be canceled today. That program for teaching training usually dismisses students early.
• All 4-year-old kindergarten and pre-school special education classes have been canceled today – both morning and afternoon sessions.